When football fans hear the words “Tampa Bay,” they don’t think of quarterbacks. That’s not to say that some promising passers haven’t suited up for the Bucs over the years. But not one of them really ever panned out. Into this void steps Josh Freeman, a freakishly big, freakishly fast and freakishly mature field general who has already begun rewriting the franchise record books in his early 20s. Leading a group of young overachievers, Josh has put the Buccaneers back on the winning track and fannies back in the seats in Tampa Bay. Next he has his sights set on a Super Bowl championship. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Joshua Tyler Freeman was born on January 13, 1988 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Teresa and Ron, welcomed another boy, Caleb, into the world a few years later. Josh’s father was a standout linebacker for Pittsburg State University, a Division II school in Kansas. He went on to play in the United States Football League with the Pittsburgh Maulers and Orlando Renegades.  

The Freeman boys were very athletic. Caleb took after his father, becoming a hard-hitting defensive player. Josh, however, was drawn to the quarterback position. He began learning it as a 9-year-old on the youth league team coached by his dad. Through grade school and junior high, Josh grew not only in size but also in his understanding of what it meant to lead an offense.

Not surpisingly, Josh became a fan of the hometown Chiefs. Kansas City struggled to win consistently during his childhood, but the team enjoyed a great season in 2003. Quarterback Trent Green led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record and first place in the AFC West. Like his fellow Kansas City fans, Josh was crestfallen when the team lost at home in the playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts.

By then, Josh had developed into the star of the Grandview High School football squad. His father served as defensive coordinator for head coach Jason Godfrey. As a sophomore, Josh threw 24 touchdown passes and racked up almost 2,000 yards as the Bulldogs reached the state quarterfinals.

He cracked the 2,000-yard mark as a junior and was even better a senior, passing for 2,622 yards and 33 touchdowns. Josh was named All-State and honored as the top player in the KC-Metro area for 2005. He graduated Grandview with school records for career passing yards and touchdown passes.

Although big enough and fast enough to run the option, Josh was already an accomplished drop-back passer. He initially had his eye on playing college ball for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but Ron Prince—the just-hired coach at Kansas State—convinced Josh to relocate to Manhattan and play for the Wildcats.

ON THE RISE

It didn’t take long for Josh to climb the depth chart at Kanss State. After a couple of games on the bench, Josh stepped into the starting role as a freshman. He took over for Dylan Meier in a game against Baylor and completed passes of 68 and 55 yards. Unfortunately, neither play found the end zone, and Josh showed his inexperience with interceptions at crucial moments in a 17–3 loss.

A quick learner, Josh engineered a thrilling comeback win over Oklahoma State in his first start. The Wildcats were losing with less than 2:00 left when he spotted an opening and scrambled 21 yards into the end zone for the deciding score. In the same game another freshman, Leon Patton, ran for 151 yards.

Josh continued to make strides as the campaign proressed. He threw for 250-plus yards in back-to-back games against Colorado and Texas—winning both—and finished the year with 1,780 yards through the air, a school record for first-year passers. The Wildcats went 7–6 (including 4–4 in Big 12 play) after losing their final two games to Kansas and Rutgers.

Kansas State took a step backwards in 2007, winning only five games. The season began with great promise, as the Wildcats stood at 3–1 after four games. By November, however, the defense had unraveled andallowed 198 points in its last four games. Forced into passing situations often and early, Josh still managed to complete an eye-opening 63% of his attempts and threw for 18 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions. His 3,353 passing yards established a new school record.

Josh’s junior season saw the Wildcats repeat their five wins from the previous campaign. They won just twice in Big 12 play. On the positive side, Josh enjoyed a spectacular statistical year. Win or lose, he looked like a polished NFL quarterback. He completed 224 of 382 pass attempts for 2,954 yards and 20 touchdowns. Josh’s passer rating was a through-the-roof 136.5. On top of that, he scrambled for over 400 yards—including 14 touchdowns.


 

 

 


Trent Green, 2003 Sports Illustrated

     
 

Facing the prospect of another losing season at Kansas State, Josh decided to enter the NFL draft in the spring of 2009. He had already earned high marks from pro scouts, particularly for the athleticism he showed in the pocket. The Bucs were sufficiently impressed and took Josh with the 17th pick in the first round. He was third quarterback selected, after Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez.

The Tampa Bay brass viewed Josh as the centerpiece of a rebuilding effort. In 2008, the team had started 9–3 but lost its final four games to miss the playoffs. Coach Jon Gruden was fired after the season and replaced by Raheem Morris, who had been in charge of the Bucs’ defensive backs. Morris was a familiar face to Josh—he had been the defensive coordinator at Kansas State during Josh’s freshman year.

Eager to assess their young talent, the Bucs cleaned house in 2009, releasing veteran stars Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway and Jeff Garcia. Josh was told that the plan for him was to sit for at least a year before jumping into the NFL frying pan as the team’s starting quarterback.

Keeping Josh’s spot warm were Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson, a holdover from the previous season. Leftwich started the first three games and went winless. Johnson took over and lost all four of his starts. At 0–7 and heading into a bye week, the Bucs decided they had nothing to lose by getting Josh some snaps. He started the next game, against the powerhouse Green Bay Packers.

It was quite a debut. Once Josh shook off the butterflies, he seemed in total command. He tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the second erasing a 28–24 deficit. The score capped off a pressure-packed 72-yard drive. After Tanard Jackson picked off a pass with a minute left, the Bucs sealed the deal with a touchdown to make the final score 38–28. Josh threw for over 200 yards on the day, with three touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s 21 fourth-quarter points were more than the team had scored in an entire game up to that point.

Fairy tales in the NFL are rare. Josh remained the Bucs’ starter for the rest of the year, but he took his lumps. Tampa Bay lost its next five games, although Josh kept the team close in a pair of road losses to the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons. In December, the Bucs won their second and third games of the season, both on the road, at Seattle and New Orleans. The win over the Saints was particularly impressive. Tampa Bay won 20–17 in overtime, handing Super Bowl-bound New Orleans only its second loss of the year.

Josh finished his rookie season with 158 completions in 290 attempts for 1,8555 yards and 10 touchdowns. He threw 18 interceptions and was 3–6 as a starter.


Josh Freeman, 2009 Upper Deck Insert
     
 

MAKING HIS MARK

Tampa Bay fans expected a big step forward from Josh in 2010, and he did not disappoint them, even after missing much of the preseason with a fractured thumb. Despite a largely inexperienced roster—the Bucs started 10 rookies!—he engineered a 10–6 campaign, falling just short of a playoff berth in a remarkable turnaround season.

Josh beat the teams a good quarterback should, feasting on the NFL’s second-rate defenses. By Thanksgiving weekend, Tampa Bay sported a 7–3 record. Josh’s best performance came in a 24–21 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati. He completed 20 passes for 280 yards, including a picture-perfect sideline throw to Michael Spurlock to set up the winning field goal with one second left.

In the season’s final game, the Bucs had a shot at the playoffs, but the chellenge in front of them was steep. They had to beat the Saints at home. Josh was sensational, throwing for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a do-or-die 18-yard scoring strike on fourth down late in the contest. Tampa Bay won 23–13, but the Bucs didn’t get the help they needed from Green Bay and fell short of postseason play.

Josh, just 22, could take some consolation in the fact that he had produced a remarkable record in his first year as a starter. He completed 291 passes for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that he recorded just six interceptions. Many established stars throw that many picks in a month.

Heading into the 2011 season, fans around the NFL are asking the same question: can Josh and the Bucs take another step forward? With a slew of second-year starters, the temptation is to say yes. But these players were unknown in 2010, and now opponents of Tampa Bay have plenty of film to study. What they will see when they watch Josh is probably a little scary. He is still learning the position and the league, but with his supreme talent and confidence, defenses had best look elsewhere if they want to find a chink in Tampa Bay’s armor.

JOSH THE PLAYER


Josh Freeman,
Black Book Partners archives
     
 

Josh may be the best all-around athlete among NFL quarterbacks. He has size and strength, good speed and mobility, and a strong arm. At 6–6 and around 250 pounds, he is hard to bring down in the pocket and a chore to tackle when he’s forced to run.

Josh is supremely confident in his ability to elude the pass rush and find an open receiver. He has complete faith in his blockers and knows only a solid hit will bring him down. He still holds the ball a little too long in the pocket, but that is partly because he doesn’t try to jam passes into tiny openings very often.

As a young quarterback, Josh remains on the learning curve. In this respect, he outshines almost every other 20-something passer in the league. When a mistake is pointed out to him by his coaches, he will not make it again. He is open to criticism and coaching, and quick to correct his errors.


Josh Freeman,
Black Book Partners archives
     

 

© Copyright 2011 Black Book Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.